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How buying Heroes Vodka from Asda supports Armed Forces charities

Chris Gillan founded Heroes Drinks as a not-for-profit organisation helping Armed Forces veterans with the help of a loan from the Asda Community Capital scheme. Ahead of this year’s Poppy Appeal he writes about his work – and the difference Asda’s support has made…

By Chris Gillan

October 25, 2018 03:46pm
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Chris Gillan founded Heroes Drinks Company with support from Asda

It’s important to pay our respects to those who went before us and made the ultimate sacrifice – particularly as this Remembrance Day marks 100 years since the end of the First World War.

I always appreciate seeing the efforts people make to remember our fallen and support Armed Forces charities, and am always happy to see people wearing a poppy, as it's a cause close to my heart.

The Armed Forces have always been an important part of my life.

My father was in the Royal Highland Fusiliers (I was born in a military hospital in Germany), my great-uncle was a Paratrooper in World War Two and I was in the RAF, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was on secondment with the SAS when I was injured during training.

Chris Gillan created Heroes Drinks Company with support from Asda

I struggled with the transition to civilian life after my injury, as it meant I was unable to join the police as I’d planned. I went through periods of unemployment and financial difficulty which led me to turn to the armed forces’ charities.

The support they gave helped to provide a foundation from which to rebuild my life outside the military – and led to the idea for the Heroes Drinks Company as a way of creating employment opportunities for service veterans and their families, as well as raising money for Armed Forces’ charities.

We received a loan from the Asda Community Capital scheme and further finance from Social Investment Scotland that enabled us to go from creating our first drinks to a nationwide listing. The number of Asda stores stocking Heroes Vodka is still rising – we’re now in 356 stores.

The opportunity afforded to Heroes Drinks by Asda is simply incredible and I am grateful for their overwhelming support. Asda really took the business model and helped us grow and scale up.

Heroes Vodka

I'd like to say thank you to all the Asda customers who've bought Heroes Vodka over the last couple of years. By choosing it, they've helped raise over £55,000 to help Britain's military community. Some of this money has been used to change the lives of injured veterans and military spouses by giving them employment opportunities. The rest has been donated to our charity partners The Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity, ABF The Soldiers' Charity and the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund. Proceeds from sales at Asda have also been used to support over 80 events across the UK – raising more money for military charities.

The charities’ work is so important, as I've seen the effects of conflict both locally in Northern Ireland and in Iraq and Afghanistan. The reality is that everyone who’s involved in conflict is affected physically or psychologically. Some are better at being able to push the memories to the back of their minds but there are others for who it remains a part of their everyday life.

My personal experience, and the thought that there are individuals out there with injuries caused by service to their country who are struggling now they’re back home, has been a big motivation to me. My ambition is to build this business so we can provide more employment opportunities and create work placement opportunities to give people skill sets to find employment outside the Armed Forces.

The Duke of York with Polly Jones from Asda and Chris Gillan of Heroes Vodka
The Duke of York with Polly Jones from Asda and Chris Gillan of Heroes Vodka

The business is growing – we've increased sales and are two thirds of the way to doubling our sales from last year. Brand awareness and recognition of the product's quality are growing. We're getting a lot of recognition from the Royal Family, as well as people like Michael Sheen and Andy McNab.

I have so much admiration for the work that Prince Harry does to support veterans. It's really helped raise awareness of the effect conflict has on our servicemen and women once they come home. I think people understand more now how important it is continue to offer our support – and that’s why I’m keen to do all that I can for the services community.

How Heroes Vodka charity partner ABF The Soldiers’ Charity helped Rick

ABF The Soldiers’ Charity is the national charity of the British Army. It gives a lifetime of support to soldiers, veterans and their immediate families in times of need. Last year, The Soldiers' Charity spent £9.5 million supporting more than 4,300 individuals and making grants to 85 other charities and organisations, which helped to deliver specialist support on its behalf. Overall, its work touched the lives of around 70,000 people across 62 countries worldwide.

Sergeant Rick Clement joined the Army just before his 17th birthday and served for 16 years. He travelled the world, on operational tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and on training exercises in Australia and Canada.

Rick Clement has been supported by ABF The Soldiers Charity

In 2010, Rick was a month into his first tour of Afghanistan when he stepped on an IED. He lost his legs and badly damaged his right arm in the blast.

Rick went to Headley Court to undertake gym and physiotherapy. He is now able to drive and gets around on a mountain trike wheelchair. He is fully independent and has recently moved in to an adapted home close to family and friends. He has a great social life, goes out with his dog every day and keeps in touch with Army friends.

ABF The Soldiers’ Charity helped him by providing a grant towards a specialist wheelchair and home adaptions.

He said: "The funding from The Soldiers’ Charity has made a massive difference. The mountain trike wheelchair has changed my life. For the first time in eight years I could go on the beach. The Soldiers’ Charity’s help is life changing stuff, it really is."

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